Patagonia founder gives away company to fight the climate crisis, raising the age-old question for marketers – “does my brand need a purpose?”￼
Patagonia are an American retailer of outdoor clothing, founded in 1973. They operate stores in 10 countries globally and ship to 28 countries worldwide. They consider themselves an “activist company”, with forward thinking policies around family support and maternity/paternity leave as well as having a history of pledging profits to environmental organisations.
In September 2022, the original founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, announced that ownership of Patagonia would be donated to a trust to ensure that profits are used to address climate change and protect undeveloped land around the world.
In a statement released when announcing the decision, Chouinard said “I never wanted to be a businessman. I started as a craftsman, making climbing gear for my friends and myself, then got into apparel. As we began to witness the extent of global warming and ecological destruction, and our own contribution to it, Patagonia committed to using our company to change the way business was done. If we could do the right thing while making enough to pay the bills, we could influence customers and other businesses, and maybe change the system along the way.”
Despite garnering a lot of media attention over the past few weeks, it is clear this is not a publicity stunt, nor a desperate cry for brand recognition.
Patagonia have been donating 1% of their profits to environmental groups since 1985, and in 2018 they changed their mission statement to “We’re in business to save our home planet.” They are clearly a value driven company with a genuine care for the planet at the core of what they do.
The company’s voting stock will go to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, which will “protect the company’s values”. The non-voting stock will go to Holdfast Collective, a non-profit that will use the company’s profits each year for environmental action.
They have proven that it is possible to grow a successful business with strong guiding purpose. This has thrown down the gauntlet for other such lifestyle brands to follow suit.
It raises the question (again) as to whether a brand needs a purpose. Can a brand exist just to sell cool stuff? You could argue that creating high-quality products and services is a purpose in and of itself. Or in contrast you could argue that fast-fashion brands and cheaply positioned services satisfy a need for value for money, allowing those on lower income to keep up with fashion trends and enjoy luxurious that could not otherwise be afforded.
What falls flat, is the brands that change their colors for pride month, post once during black history month or post on World Environmental Day, without having the policies in place to back up their faux-activism. Who could forget Pretty Little Thing’s 8p black Friday dress deal, amid growing concerns over the welfare of their factory workers and the environmental impact of “fast-fashion”.
So, does my brand need a purpose? Patagonia’s initial success was probably not purpose led, they just offered a good product, at the right time, to the right audience. It is clear however, that having a purpose which aligns with your products and audience is what separates the elite and long-lasting brands from the ones with a short shelf life, which leapfrog from controversy to controversy.
For smaller companies, the questions to ask yourself are “Do we stand for anything?”, “Do we want to stand for anything?”, “What changes are we willing to make to meet our purpose?” Your purpose might just be to offer a really good product and service, in which case invest in your quality control and customer care teams. Your purpose might be around company culture, making sure your staff are well cared for, in which case offer wages above the living wage and invest in training and development. Your purpose might be a focus around diversity in your workforce, in which case invest in your HR and recruitment.
Whatever you choose, just make sure that you are committed and follow it up with the appropriate policies and procedures, not just a post on Linkedin.